So-called glial cells were active in 13.5 per cent of chronically sleep-deprived cases, twice the number of well-rested cases.
“We show for the first time that portions of synapses are literally eaten by astrocytes because of sleep loss,” says Michele Bellesi from the Marche Polytechnic University.
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The results also suggest lack of sleep could be a factor in developing dementia.
“In the short term, this [process] might be beneficial – cleaning potentially harmful debris and rebuilding worn circuitry might protect healthy brain connections,” adds Bellesi. “But it may cause harm in the long term, and could explain why a chronic lack of sleep puts people at risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological disorders.”
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